Interesting Things You Need to Know

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Where are the parrots?
January 17, 2018

The beautiful and endangered Puerto Rican parrot should begin nesting this month in tree cavities throughout the El Yunque National Forest.

Except the forest is bare.

After two devastating hurricanes, the El Yunque forest of Puerto Rico is denuded of its canopy and, most ominously, it is silent.

No bird calls echo through the forest and none of the characteristic shrieks of the native Puerto Rican parrot.
The parrot, called iguaca, is found only in Puerto Rico. Once a million strong, by 1973 only a dozen parrots remained. Captive breeding programs have brought the numbers up to 500, more than half in the wild. An elaborate hurricane protection program saved 230 captive birds. But the double punch of two hurricanes in 2017, have left researchers wondering about the fate of the wild population.

Did they go elsewhere? Were they killed? And if they lived, where will they nest?

Since the storm, researchers have identified about 80 parrots, foraging for royal palm fruits, the last remaining of the scarce vegetation.

Some evidence hints that wild birds may have traveled away from the storm. One parrot was spotted miles away from the forest.

A few individuals were found dead.

What survivors there are will have to make a living in a forest without cover, at risk of attack by hawks. Artificial tree cavities are largely gone and trees are knocked down all over the forest.

Researchers fear an entire generation of parrots may be lost to the storms.
New York Times.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
More precious than diamonds: The rarest blood in the world
January 14, 2018

Suppose in one room we gathered Duffy, Kidd, Diego, Lutheran, Langereis, Vel, and Junior.

This would constitute a most extraordinary meeting because these are the names of the rarest blood types ever identified. Only 550 people in the world have Lutheran blood, for example.

But if in that meeting we included a man named Thomas from Switzerland, you would have the rarest meeting in the history of the earth.

There’s no engaging name for Thomas’ blood, except insofar as some have called it ‘golden.’ His blood is RH-null and it is so extraordinary that, of the 7.5 billion people in the world, only 43 have ever been identified as having it and only nine are active blood donors today.

Most people know there are eight blood types: A, B, AB, and 0, positive or negative. But each of these blood types can be divided into distinct varieties depending on which antigens the blood contains or doesn’t contain. AB blood has A and B antigens. O blood doesn’t have either. Positive blood contains the Rh D antigen; negative blood lacks it. But there are hundreds of antigens coating the blood, making perhaps millions of combinations, according to Smithsonian.
It’s important to know the antigen profile of blood because, if the wrong antigen combination is transfused, a patient can die. Even so, doctors do millions of transfusions every day with few complications.

But golden blood is unique, and that is an understatement. Rh-null has no antigens. It can be accepted by anyone with a rare blood type in the RH system and that makes it infinitely precious. It is so precious that it is never used except under the most extreme circumstances.

The flip side is that a person with RH-null blood can only accept RH-null blood. That means Thomas of Switzerland should never find himself in the position of needing a blood transfusion. If he does, he should certainly not find himself in a remote part of the world. This rare blood can be provided if the tiny number of donors are available, but it requires an international mobilization of blood providers to do it. Much would depend on timing and Thomas’ location.

In 2014, Thomas told Mosaic Science that he drives carefully, never speeds, and doesn’t take vacations to exotic locales. But he does ski.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
How to spot an online hoax
January 13, 2018

The next time an acquaintance shares a shocking article on social media, prompting an almost instant flurry of scandalized comments and polarizing debates, step back for a moment to consider what you’re reading. Hoaxes, rumors and other fake news stories travel at the speed of light these days, so it’s important to think critically before you react.

The source
The first thing to do when you read an article with a sensationalized headline (i.e. “clickbait”) is to check if the information is corroborated by a credible source (a trusted news organization, for example). If no recognizable news outlet has covered the story, chances are it’s made up or, at the very least, somewhat embellished.

The format
Also pay attention to the way the information is presented. Written material that contains spelling and grammar mistakes, overuses capital letters or punctuation, or includes lots of superlatives should be taken with a grain of salt, as should shocking photos, incredible statistics or quotes from “experts” who may benefit personally from the propagation of the story.

Always remember that real journalists who work for credible media organizations are held to a high ethical standard. They must rigorously fact-check their sources and, most of all, remain objective in their coverage.

Why create hoaxes?
Hoaxes have been around forever, and are often created purely to mislead the public. They’re sometimes used to harm a particular person or organization, or to spread controversial ideologies. In the digital realm, some hoax creators do it to gain more clicks and views, driving up advertising revenue for their website.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Braille: The reading system that changed the world for the blind
January 10, 2018

At age 3, Louis Braille, born in France in 1809, was an inquisitive, perhaps precocious, kid who loved to work in his father’s horse tack workshop.

One day he was using an awl, a sharp pointed instrument for making holes, to punch through leather. The awl bounced off the hard leather and the point struck him in the eye. The local doctor did everything possible to heal the eye, but without antibiotics, painful infection soon spread to both eyes rendering him blind.

Nonetheless, a diligent child, Braille was a good student and by age 10, he earned the chance to study at the first school for the blind in Paris. There he learned to read by touching raised letters, formed in the shape of ordinary letters. But the few books written in this way were huge and difficult to handle.

In 1821, he heard of a system of raised dots developed for the military so that soldiers on the battlefield could read notes without light. Inspired by the system, at age 15, Braille completed a new system that halved the number of dots required for a letter and made the dot cells small enough to be read with one finger.

Best yet, the system enabled Braille users to easily write.

His system did encounter resistance, but by 1882 blind people throughout the world were using it. Finally, in 1912, it was adopted in North America and a formal English alphabet was formalized by 1932.

Braille, whose health was always fragile, died at age 43. Besides being an inventor, he was an accomplished musician and professor of algebra, history and geometry.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Proxima Centauri: our not-so-nearby neighbor
January 6, 2018

Shining brightly in this Hubble image is our closest stellar neighbour: Proxima Centauri.

Proxima Centauri is the closest star to planet earth. Close, however, is relative, as this red dwarf — the term used by astronomers to designate smaller, cooler stars — is still about 4.22 light-years away.

Even at the highest speed ever recorded by a man-made object (252,792 km/h), it would take a probe more than 18,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri. Bottom line: if you dream of interstellar travel, you’re going to need to be patient.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Ever been told you should write a book? Now’s the time
January 5, 2018

The lights come up. Music from the orchestra swells and, as the curtain rises, an actor begins speaking as the epic Autobiography of You begins.

Why not?

Unlike journaling which is typically focused on the present, a memoir or an autobiography takes a sweeping look at one’s life. A life with joy, undoubtedly struggle, surely pain, but maybe an end in triumph?

Will you be, as writer Charles Dickens once wrote, the hero of your own life?

You don’t have to write your life’s story for anyone but yourself but it could be written for family, friends, or even the world.

Writing for just yourself could help you clarify the events of your life, maybe admit wrongs, perhaps tell your side of a story. According to the Wall Street Journal, it could even be a catalyst for the rest of your life; a chronicle of how the past brought you to the present. It could be used to change the direction for the future.

Research has shown that the act of writing about past trauma or other stressful events can lessen depression, lower stress, improve mental function, and even help build the immune system. To recount an event, we have to break it down into smaller chunks and look at how one occasion led to another to produce the problems. This helps provide structure and organization to an otherwise frazzled memory. As many memories are just visuals, using words to describe what we are seeing can make our memories less abstract or confusing. Ultimately, the goal is to reveal those memories in a more positive light and let them be processed and laid to rest.

You do not need writing experience to create a narrative of your life. According to Psychology Today, the challenge is getting the story to reveal itself. Even if a person’s life doesn’t seem to be particularly exciting or thought-provoking, everyone remembers things differently and telling the story will let them know which part of the memory was most important to them. Finding meaning in the past is a great way to help believe in one’s personal value, confess mistakes, and pass on lessons to children and future generations.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Everything you need to know about snowflakes
December 31, 2017

Ten facts about snowflakes

1. The word snowflake is often used to refer to what’s technically a snow crystal. Snowflakes can be made up of hundreds, or even thousands, of individual snow crystals.

2. Snow crystals grow fastest in temperatures around 5 °F, but no one knows why.

3. Almost all snowflakes are six-sided, or hexagonally symmetrical.

4. It’s virtually impossible for two naturally occurring snowflakes to be exactly alike.

5. The shape of a snowflake is determined by atmospheric factors such as temperature and humidity.

6. Sticking out your tongue to catch a few falling flakes is fine, but eating snow off the ground is a bad idea, as it may contain pathogenic substances.

7. In the 19th century, an American named Wilson Bentley developed a method for photographing snowflakes in great detail with the help of a microscope. He took more than 5,000 photos during his lifetime, many of which are now on display in various museums.

8. In 1951 the International Commission on Snow and Ice devised a system for categorizing snowflakes according to their shape. The seven main shapes according to this classification are plates, stellar crystals, columns, needles, spatial dendrites, capped columns, and irregular forms.

9. Individual snowflakes form when water vapor freezes around a tiny airborne particle (e.g. dust or pollen).

10. The largest individual snow crystal ever photographed was 10 millimeters (a little over 3/8 inch) wide.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Looking for something to do in 2018?
December 31, 2017

Here’s the list for January:

1 – New Year’s Day.
1 – ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA. 84th annual.
Web: 98th annual
1 – CANADA: POLAR BEAR SWIM 2018 English Bay Beach, Vancouver, BC. 98th annual.
1 – ROSE BOWL and PARADE, Pasadena, CA. Since 1902.
2 – JAPAN: KAKIZOME. Traditional Japanese festival.
3 – EARTH AT PERIHELION At about 12:35 a.m., EST, planet Earth will reach the point in its orbit when it is closest to the sun (about 91,400,000 miles). The Earth is closest to the sun during the Northern Hemisphere winter.
5 – NATIONAL BIRD DAY. 16th annual. Web:
6 – EPIPHANY or TWELFTH DAY. Epiphany of Our Lord, one of the oldest Christian feasts, is observed in Roman Catholic churches.
7 – GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS. Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA. 75th annual.
7 – ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS. Observed by those churches using the Julian calendar.
10-14 –  ENGLAND: LONDON BOAT SHOW. ExCeL, London’s Docklands, London. 64th annual. Web:
11-21 –  CHICAGO SKETCH COMEDY FESTIVAL. Chicago, IL. 17th annual. Web:
11-14 – ULTIMATE FISHING SHOW–DETROIT. Suburban Collection Showplace, Novi, MI.
12-14 – ART DECO WEEKEND. Miami Beach, FL. 41st annual. Web:
12-14 – LOOP ICE CARNIVAL. St. Louis, MO. 13th annual. Ice slides, zip line rides, ice carving demos, more. Web:
12-Feb. 3 – SOUTHWESTERN EXPOSITION AND LIVESTOCK SHOW. Fort Worth, TX. Western extravaganza. Web:
14 – CHEVRON HOUSTON MARATHON. Houston, TX. 46th annual citywide race.
17-21 – CAREERBUILDER GOLF CHALLENGE. La Quinta, CA. 59th annual. Established in 1960, formerly Bob Hope Classic. Web:
18-28 – SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL. Park City, UT. Since 1985. Web:
19-21 – MILWAUKEE BOAT SHOW. Wisconsin Expo Center at State Fair Park, Milwaukee, WI. Web:
20-21 – ICE FEST. Ligonier, PA. Ice-carving demonstrations. Web:
23-27 – SIOUX EMPIRE FARM SHOW. Sioux Falls, SD. Web:
25-Feb.10 – SAINT PAUL WINTER CARNIVAL. St. Paul, MN. Web:
26 – AUSTRALIA: AUSTRALIA DAY COCKROACH RACES. Brisbane, Queensland. 37th annual.
27 – BROOKFIELD ICE HARVEST. Brookfield, VT. 39th annual.
28-Feb. 3 – CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK. Since 1974, the annual celebration of Catholic education in the US. Web:
28 – 2018 PRO BOWL. Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL. Web:
30 – SCOTLAND: UP HELLY AA. Lerwick, Shetland Islands. Norse galley burned.
31-Feb. 4 – US NATIONALS SNOW SCULPTING COMPETITION. Lake Geneva, WI. 23rd annual.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Hassled and harried? Get more done with this good advice
December 10, 2017

Facing a day’s work or one big project can be daunting. With so much to accomplish in a limited time, the early plan is a vital starting point.

Making a list is a well-known strategy. It sounds simple, but deciding what to include can be tricky.

The all-day list shows tasks, large and small, that you want to accomplish that day. Numbering them in the order of importance or when you will do them can help. It’s OK to include small tasks. You won’t forget to do one, and crossing them off makes you realize that you’re moving forward.

The project list is different. It helps you think on paper. Adviser Brian Tracy says working from a detailed list keeps you on track. The visual record of accomplishment and constantly referring to it can increase your productivity by 25 percent or more. Be disciplined in your approach, he cautions.

For a project, Tracy says you should regularly ask yourself these questions:

What am I trying to do? Clearly define the goal and outcome. If you are working with others, make sure everyone knows the desired results.

What are my assumptions? Alec McKinzie, author or The Time Trap says, “Errant assumptions lie at the root of most failures.” What are your assumptions about the market, the actions of others, and the underlying motives of key players?

What if what you believe turns out to be not true? Always be willing to question your most cherished assumptions. Decide what you will have to do differently if your current approach fails.

A written plan of action, says Tracy, is the key to high productivity. Every minute you spend planning will save you as many as 10 minutes in execution.

Interesting Things You Need to Know
Picking a plane that will arrive on time
December 9, 2017

You have a better chance of your plane arriving on time if you follow some simple rules of thumb in choosing your flight.

– Choose a 737 over a 757.
– Avoid planes with fancy lie-flat seats that are often the cause of delays.
– Choose a large carrier.
– Choose younger planes over older planes.

According to a recent analysis by The Wall Street Journal, it is possible to avoid some delays by picking a particular type of aircraft and carrier for the flight. United’s 737s, for example, arrived on time 82 percent of the time versus only 70 percent with their 757s.
Bigger carriers avoid delays by having additional planes waiting in reserve that are in the same family as the originals. Carriers routinely swap planes out when there are problems or delays. These swaps are quite easy if the aircraft are the same because the seating arrangements and flight crews will be the same as well.

Having many different kinds of planes on a route reduces the amount of flexibility carriers have with those swaps and leads to more cancellations and delays.

When it comes to individual plane reliability, a carrier’s maintenance protocol can dramatically affect the amount of downtime it will experience. Case in point; a comparison of on-time arrival rate between the same aircraft from Delta and American showed that the former boasted 82.8 percent versus 69.1 percent for the latter. The reason for this considerable difference revolves around how Delta uses data to predict which parts are likely to break in the future but also actively redesign parts and proactively replace them ahead of recommendations. They also use traveling maintenance bases to go to where the aircraft sit overnight rather than wasting flight time by bringing them into headquarters.